Did you know that according to Google, 97% of consumers search for local businesses online? In fact, 73% of all activity online is related to local content whether it’s tracking down a business phone number, looking up business hours, or finding driving directions. Because of the amount of activity that circles around local searches, it only makes sense that small businesses take advantage of online tools like Google Places which can help build overall brand visibility.
It was only a few years ago when search engine result pages (SERPS) would rank only the top ten websites for natural searches. If someone searched for the keywords “Italian restaurant”, they may end up with website links to restaurants five (or more) states away. Now, Google has made it so that a mix of websites, local businesses (Google Places listings), and related maps are returned from even generic searches. Google Places even allows customers to review and comment on service and products. Customers now have the option to rate and share their experiences with other users, and as you may know, a happy customer is your best advocate.
When a company creates a business profile or listing on sites like Google Places, online Yellow Pages, or other business directory sites, it is called a citation. Citations are extremely important to local search results and the more a business has the higher the SERPs will be for local searches. Citations are a key component of the ranking algorithms for all of the large search engine sites. If all other factors are equal, businesses with a greater number of citations (with correct and consistent information) will probably rank higher than businesses with fewer citations.
If a business places a citation on well-established and well-indexed sites (like YP.com, SuperPages.com, or Yelp for example), it can help increase the degree of certainty the search engines have about that business’s contact information and industry category.
One of the most important things to remember when creating citations is consistency. Here’s a look at the reason why-
“Citations will always be a major factor and can help or seriously hurt a listing if the data is incorrect across the ecosystem. If your citations have bad information, you have set yourself up for duplicate listings and will ultimately divide your ranking power substantially.“ —Mike Ramsey
There are hundreds of factors that go into determining where you show up in local results. Being close to the central business district of the town that you are attempting to rank in, having a strong website with lots of relevant content, even the categories you pick on your citation listing will all determine where you rank. If you want to know more about the factors that go into ranking for local searches, check out this article: http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml
It’s not surprising that marketing with Google Places has gotten very competitive over the past couple years. When it was first introduced, you could simply fill out a vague and spotty listing and still rank in the top 7 (first page) results. Now, there is huge competition for the coveted first seven local business results. Your listings must be in depth, properly set up, and contain a great deal of pertinent information in order to get a good ranking. If your listing is not 100% complete by the score on your profile, you can forget about showing up on the first page of local search results.
This will include adding photos, videos, customer reviews, and a menagerie of different product & service information, along with contact information. It’s extremely important that your business profile information is correct, up to date, and matches the content on your main business website along with other citation sites. There used to be a number of tricks and short cuts that businesses could use when setting up their profile that would help them rank higher in local results. One of these included creating a custom category as the name of the business. With the new Google Places interface, you will no longer be able to create custom categories, so this trick will no longer help a business rank better in local results.
Recently, Google Places has now merged with Google+ to make an even more user-friendly experience. The whole goal was for Google to make it easier for users to discover local businesses and share it with others. By adding new features and functionality, businesses can optimize their business listing to reach as many potential customers as possible.
Even more important-Google Places is undergoing a HUGE update which is going to create a brand new dashboard for business owners. The idea was to integrate a number of services and tools into one user interface that will make it easy to maintain, edit, and promote your business listings and profile. There is a one button Google+ Page set-up & management widget, a Google Adwords Express widget and a Google Offers widget, all together in the same interface.
Old Interface & Dashboard
New Interface & Dashboard
There are so many new options available to list information that wasn’t previously on Google Places like email address, split hours of operation, and description boxes that encourage rich text and support urls. The approval and verification process should also become quicker so companies won’t have to wait weeks to see edits or added photos, etc.
Company owners need to sign up now to be included on any further updates, so it’s imperative to get the ball rolling on this. As we all know, major Google updates always seem to affect ranking almost immediately. Maintaining your Google Places account needs to be just like any other aspect of your marketing and shouldn’t be left to inexperienced individuals, since in this business, what you don’t know CAN hurt you. Luckily, there are a number of companies that manage these types of accounts in order to keep building your company’s brand online.
Contact us if you’d like more information about how we can help you create and maintain your brand online with tools like Google Places.